DETROIT — United Auto Workers presidential candidate Shawn Fain has defeated incumbent Ray Curry in a historic, first-ever direct election for the union’s highest office, the federal monitor overseeing the vote confirmed Saturday afternoon.
Fain will be sworn in on Sunday according to the monitor, clearing the way for him to lead the UAW’s critical bargaining convention that opens Monday in Detroit. At the quadrennial convention, UAW leaders and delegates will determine what the priorities for negotiations later this year with Detroit’s three automakers will be.
The results come after weeks of delays in vote tabulation as a thin margin between the two candidates showcased divisions in the Detroit-based union as it emerges from a yearslong corruption scandal and faces the threats from the electric transformation in its core industry.
Fain, 54, an international administrative representative in the Stellantis Department running on the UAW Members United slate backed by the Unite All Workers for Democracy Caucus, beat Curry, 57, by 483 votes — 50.2% to 49.8% — the monitor said in its Saturday court filing.
In a statement, Fain said: “I want to thank each and every member who cast a vote in this historic first direct election of our top leadership. This election was not just a race between two candidates, it was a referendum on the direction of the UAW. For too long, the UAW has been controlled by leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption, and plant closures.
“While the election was close, it is clear that our membership has long wanted to see a more aggressive approach with our employers. We now have a historic opportunity to get back to setting the standard across all sectors, and to transform the UAW into a member-led, fighting union once again, and we are going to take it. The future of the working class is at stake.”
In a video posted on Twitter Saturday afternoon, Fain added: “My message to employers: The UAW is ready to fight back. That’s not a threat. That’s a promise.”
Fain is joining other candidates on the union’s International Executive Board who challenged those backed by the Administrative Caucus that had held control of the union for more than 70 years, setting up a new era for the union that members say they hope will be more transparent, responsive to their wants and needs, and aggressive at the bargaining table.
“It’s members first,” said Ray Jensen Jr., a Fain supporter and Local 774 trustee in Buffalo, New York, that represents workers at General Motors Co.’s Tonawanda Engine Plant. “Every executive board decision will be made with the members in mind. The leadership works for the membership, not the other way around. It’ll be a ground-up organization, not just top-down. It’s going to be huge. We’re not going to get everything back in one fell swoop, but we’re going to get back some stuff we lost over the years and concessionary contracts and what not.”
Curry issued a statement Saturday afternoon acknowledging Fain’s election.
“Tomorrow, Shawn Fain will be sworn in as UAW president, and he will chair our 2023 Special Bargaining Convention,” Curry said. “I am committed to ensuring that this transition is smooth and without disruptions. I wish him, the entire UAW International Executive Board, staff and clerical support as well as UAW’s membership great success for the future.”
Curry also said, “I want to express my deep gratitude to all UAW staff, clerical support, leaders and most of all, our union’s active and retired members for the many years of support and solidarity. It has been the honor of my life to serve our great union.”
Mike Perez, General Motors Co.’s vice president of North American Labor Relations, said in a statement that the automaker is “looking forward to working with newly elected UAW President Shawn Fain. We are committed to building a working relationship based on trust and mutual respect, operating in the best interest of our employees and stakeholders.”
On Twitter, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., congratulated Fain on his victory.
“Congrats to Shawn Fain on being elected as @UAW’s next president! I look forward to working together to build on the hard work the men and women of UAW have done for decades to inspire workers everywhere in the fight for better wages and benefits,” Peters tweeted.
The UAW will face one of its more critical negotiations to date this summer when it returns to the bargaining table with Detroit’s three automakers. The rank-and-file want to see an end to the different treatments between seniority, full-time, temporary or supplemental and joint-venture battery-plant workers, job security amid uncertainty around how electrification could affect manufacturing footprints, and a greater slice of the profits that automakers have made.
All the while, automakers are eyeing economic conditions that include recession concerns and cost cuts to ensure investments and vehicle affordability for the future.
The relatively small difference in votes between Fain and Curry contributed to delays in obtaining the unofficial results from the court-appointed monitor. The union had to verify and count ballots that had been challenged over whether the members who cast them were in good standing and eligible to vote. There were 1,608 ballots challenged after the tabulation began in Dayton, Ohio, on March 1 and concluded March 4. The union counted 676 of those ballots on March 16 in Detroit, leaving was a 505 vote difference between Fain and Curry.
Since there still were 586 challenged ballots outstanding, the union and monitor had to continue to try to make contact with local union financial secretaries about the members who voted.
The two men obtained the most votes in the fall election among five candidates, but failed to secure the needed majority in that initial round.
Also in the runoff, Chuck Browning beat out Tim Bressler for a second term as vice president. Browning and Bressler were members of the Curry Solidarity Team slate after Mike Booth and Rich Boyer, both Members United candidates, won vice president positions in December.
Additionally, Daniel Vicente, a Members United candidate, won director in Region 9, which covers western and central New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, over Lauren Farrell, a member of the Curry Solidarity Team.
In December, not a single establishment candidate who was challenged won outright in any of the contested races for positions on the 14-member International Executive Board. Five won unopposed, while six challengers came out victorious.
Fain’s close race results and a split board mean he will surround himself with experienced people to tackle the job and unify the UAW around a common bargaining and organizing strategy, said Marick Masters, a management professor at Wayne State University.
“This is going to take some effort,” he said. “Fain will come in without the level of experience and will come in without the variety of people working for him who have gone through this process before. He needs to get his new team and staff on board with him and plan on how to negotiate these round of contracts.”
Jonathan Mason, 46, of Detroit, who works at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Detroit where the F-150 Lightning is built, voted for Curry because of his experience in negotiations. But he wants health care protected and the tier system gone, so when it comes to Fain, “I am going to get behind him.”